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CSN Down South: Unmissable Unfoldings
By Jason Plotkin, CSN Down South Columnist
If Southeastern Louisiana’s trip to Stephen F. Austin was any indication of what to expect when the rest of the Southland Conference opens league play this week, we’re in for exciting and high-scoring games. The Football Championship Subdivision community won’t want to miss what’s about to unfold.
“Welcome back, my friends
To the show that never ends.
We’re so glad you could attend!
Come inside! Come inside!”
It was just last week that both of the aforementioned squads were involved in a thrilling game that took all of our attention. And those same two squads were once more in the spotlight with a game that put forth a spectacular ending.
While the late-game highlight reel plays of Lumberjack QB Jeremy Moses and WR Dominique Edison whet the appetite, it was the overall comeback of the Jacks from 28-0 down with just under four minutes left that made the game exciting.
Southland fans leaguewide already were thinking a loss for SFA as they heard of the quick scores SE Louisiana kept putting up. But if the Jacks had learned anything from their large collapse two weeks ago against South Dakota State, it was that you’re never out of a game.
A Brian Babin interception and a special teams miscue on a Lions’ snap were the two plays that sent the momentum the other way as the home team from Nacogdoches picked up its first FCS and SLC victory since 2006 with a 48-45 triumph. While SLU has a talented team on the verge of breaking through its annual role as the league darkhorse, it will now have a tougher road ahead after the setback to SFA, which will continue after a bye this week. For SFA, it will look to keep its momentum going against Kentucky Weslayan, a makeup contest resulting from Hurricane Ike.
Can this league get any more entertaining? Well, apparently when SDSU is playing a SLC school, it is bound to provide fans with a high level of entertainment. McNeese State was the foe this week for the Missouri Valley squad.
In a battle of ranked squads, it was not over until Pokes’ Jeremy Haynes and Brant Linde stopped JaRon Harris for a loss behind the line of scrimmage on an SDSU two-point conversion attempt.
An offensive opening half led to a quiet second half, before each team was given a short field to work with and overtime. The Pokes had the advantage offensively, but penalties (11 for 100 yards) made a huge difference in keeping the host Jackrabbits in the game.
The importance of the games picks up as the Game of the Week between Central Arkansas and Sam Houston State should have offensive fireworks of its own.
Both teams are coming off a bye and feature future Sunday quarterbacks in Nathan Brown and Rhett Bomar. SHSU coach Todd Whitten has yet to win against UCA and McNeese - the next two opponents. If the Kats want to win the SLC, the road goes through those two squads.
For the Bears, Clint Conque’s team will have homecoming in front of what is expected to be 12,000 to 13,000 in a jam-packed Estes Stadium. It will provide the perfect backdrop for SLC TV, bringing the atmosphere of a big-time Southland game to the masses!
Texas State will hit the road for McNeese. Coming off a strong offensive performance against Texas Southern, the Bobcats need to “shore up the defense and secondary” according to second-year coach Brad Wright.
Bobby Reid from the SWAC’s TSU found plenty of open room in the middle of the field and even watched his receivers drop a handful of passes in a game that could have been much different. McNeese coach Matt Viator will see what can be exploited and until fixed, that’s the secondary for the Bobcats.
If the Bobcats want any chance of winning the SLC, these defensive miscues, regardless of the lack of depth in the secondary, must be answered. The only thing that does seem to be answered is that the backup QB always is better than the starter for Wright’s staff. Clint Toon started against TSU, but it was Bradley George that had the better game, a bit of role-reversal from the contest a few weeks ago against SMU.
With hardly any sight of strong pass defenses and a quick look of the top 50 pass defenses in the nation yielding only Nicholls State, the quarterbacks in the league should be able to find gaping holes in the defense. The Colonels, who fell to Northern Iowa on ESPNU last Thursday, showed a bit of rust. While coach Jay Thomas will not mention it because he doesn’t want to make excuses for his team’s 0-2 record, we all know what is going on in Thibodaux.
If they’re not ready now, the Colonels will be in trouble. Conference play begins and lucky for the Colonels, it starts against a Northwestern State team that hasn’t impressed against Division I competition, whether it was the lumps taken against Baylor or those against Cal Poly, with Grambling really not being a fair assessment.
This is the SLC – entertainment is at a high level and with the quarterbacks featured in the league, there’s no question that the scoring will not be at a premium.
This week, we’ll take a break from the norm and talk about our “out of conference” award winners.
OOC Player of the Year: Brian Babin, SLU. Has any player meant more to his team? Babin went down with a concussion in the Alcorn State game and has rebounded strong. SLU quarterback is averaging 265 yards per game, completing 62.3 of his passes and has a QB rating of 140.3. Victories over UND and USD at home plus a road victory against Alcorn State. All of this coming with Jay Lucas being targeted and lacking production on the ground. Lucas is like another southeastern Louisiana player though – Reggie Bush. A decoy on the run, Lucas is actively still involved in other facets of the game.
Honorable Mention: Cameron Luke (TXST), Rhett Bomar (SHSU), Nathan Brown (UCA).
OOC Defensive Player of the Year: Tim Knicky, SFA. Sure, the SFA results have not been solid, but Knicky has been all over the field. 17 solo tackles, 14 assisted tackles. Of those, nine solo tackles for losses (including 6 sacks) with four assisted tackles for loss (including 2 sacks in that area). So, altogether - seven sacks and four forced fumbles. Knicky is the bright spot for the Jacks and with some talented QBs on the slate ahead, he’ll need to keep those numbers up and get in the backfield.
Honorable Mention: Courtney Smith (TXST), Mark Newbill (SLU), Larry Hart (UCA).
OOC Special Teams Player of the Year: Jeff Turner (SLU) is the most consistent kicker in the league at this point. He was last year as well. In some of the shootouts that I forsee in the Southland, Turner is going to need to keep it coming and might have a game-winning FG or two ahead.
Honorable Mention: Robert Weeks (McN), Blake Bergegeay (McN).
* * *
Lagniappe – A Bit Extra To Write Home About
* The Southland Television Network made its maiden voyage in the game between Texas Southern from the SWAC and Texas State. For the most part, the broadcast went well and provided fans a chance to see the conference highlighted. The Houston-area fan base was not too happy as the game got cut off at 8 p.m, just around the time the fourth quarter was beginning due to the Houston Dynamo pregame show on the Houston affiliate, KTBU (Channel 55, the Tube). Those in the Bayou City, who had access to Fox College Sports, were not blacked out for the fourth quarter. This week’s SLC TV game is UCA’s Homecoming against SHSU.
* Rhett Bomar has received a postseason all-star bowl invite, though at this time, he has not accepted it, according to Dave Coulson of The Sports Network. Bomar will hopefully be one of several SLC players getting the call in the next few weeks, if not months, to participate in these games that provide an excellent chance to showcase one’s skills to the NFL scouts.
* For those who enjoy YouTube besides the SLC, make sure to check out some of the Mike Lucas Show that is available online. Highlights from SLU games in addition to remarks from the Lions coach are right at your fingertips! http://www.youtube.com/user/slulionsfan